How do you follow up first-person smash GoldenEye 007? The original plan was to follow it up with Tomorrow Never Dies, but without a license to do so, Rare would have to come up with something else. The result? Corporate espionage and alien conspiracy theories in the form of Perfect Dark.
Huh. Not what I thought Perfect Dark was about, I have to say, but I'm not familiar with it at all, owing to that whole 'not having an N64 back then' thing. Even when it got an Xbox 360 remaster, I was still in Sonyville, enjoying whatever else I was playing at the time.
So what did I miss? Twice?
It is the future. So far into the future that I'm able to emulate this Nintendo 64 title on a personal computer, of all things. It's also a future where hover copters and aliens hiding amongst humans are a thing, but you're not meant to know that yet.
While the game begins with the first missions' introduction, you're actually dropped into the Carrington Institute practice level, full of shooting ranges and backstory and whatnot. It's the perfect opportunity to spend far too long looking at these walls.
It's a first-person shooter on the Nintendo 64, and that can mean only one thing: appalling control layouts. Thankfully, emulation solves many of the issues, though I still had to switch my analogue sticks around outside of the game in order to have movement on the left stick inside it. Weird. Even weirder when there are actually controller layouts for playing the game with two controllers.
Further Fun Times
Finally happy, ish, with my controls, I got into the campaign that Perfect Dark offers, emerging from a hover copter onto a skyscraper with one objective: to get inside a laboratory.
The game is surprisingly detailed, to the point where you can shoot lights out. There isn't a gameplay purpose for this - it's not like Splinter Cell or anything - but it makes the game feel that much more grounded in reality.
Some snappy auto-aim sucks you right back out of that real feeling, but it is an absolute necessity for me, certainly on an N64. While I'm able to map the controls to more modern methods, the sensitivity is still an issue, and while it looks ridiculous in motion sometimes, having a gun wobble around the screen attaching itself to nearby threats is the way to go.
Inside, Perfect Dark looks like a posh version of GoldenEye 007, with fancy futuristic offices replacing the concrete bunkers of the Bond title. They're a bit empty and square, sure, but it's early days. A few more guards stand in my way but serve up no problems.
Granted, I'm playing on easy difficulty and have lots of aim assist doing all the hard work for me, but still, they're awful guards whose employer should rethink about. Speaking of...
I'll, uh... I'll not do that next time then.
The second attempt at the mission was more action-heavy, with my shots aimed in the vague direction of threatening guards, rather than important 'must be kept alive' targets. They all have motion-capture animations, both for running about and shooting at me, and for falling over after having been riddled with bullets.
They look goofy up close, and even goofier when they just stand there, hoping to hit you, but we can't have everything - especially when the N64 has to keep track of destroyed lights and where the furniture has been moved to...
It wasn't long before I got lost. On harder difficulties, I know these computers are important for an objective, but I've just got to find the lab and I'm getting stumped. Locked doors remain locked and everyone (well, nearly everyone) who was in the office is now in a bloody heap on the floor. I needed a guide, already.
Back on track, I got in an elevator and went down a few floors, where enemies got harder and more menacing. Or they should have, but it was like shooting fish in a barrel. It's the FPS equivalent of putting seven goals past Argentina: it's not as fun as I know it should be.
Twelve minutes later, it was onto the second level, and I've actually forgotten what the objective was because it was this point where our heroine, Joanna Dark, thought that stealth was a joke and went in with the attitude of shooting first, asking questions later.
If everyone is alerted and they're all so easy to shoot, I might as well run through the place like a maniac, right? It's not very thematic or true to character, but after having gotten lost in the first level, I was losing my interest in seeing where Perfect Dark was going - and I hadn't even seen an alien yet.
What I did see were some laser gates. "They already know I'm here, might as well go through them", I thought.
Instant death, thought the laser gate...
My time with Perfect Dark was marred mostly by the controls. Even tweaking them to be as comfortable as possible - beyond what the game was originally capable of, in fact - didn't result in an experience that I was confident in.
I was bumbling through the levels. Well, flying through them, because the movement is pretty slick, but bumbling into enemies and letting the auto-aim deal with the reactions while my trigger finger kept twitching until the threat disappeared. I didn't need to explore the alternate fire modes on my weapons or need to switch weapons in the first place. Ammo was plentiful and obstacles were easy to overcome. Until I got lost, of course.
But there's much more to Perfect Dark than what I've seen. It pushed the console to its limits. It gave game modes that you just don't see anywhere else: a second player could control each and every enemy in the first players single player campaign, for example. And that's on top of multiplayer gameplay by the same developers as GoldenEye 007.
The fact that I utterly failed to get into Perfect Dark shouldn't be a slight on Perfect Dark, because I get the feeling that it further refines what made GoldenEye 007 as great as it was. I've not seen a whole lot of it, so I've no idea where the plot will take us, but truth be told I don't really think I'm interested.
That's partly because of my time playing it, and partly because I know it involves aliens hiding amongst people in some capacity, which I think is a bit bleh, but it's also partly because I get the feeling that if Perfect Dark was such an important game, that it might have seeped into my subconscious over time, somehow.
It's probably unfair for me to say such a thing, but it's how I feel. I've played enough of it to know that, yeah, I missed out on some nice first-person action back in the day, but I'm not disappointed to have done so. If you enjoyed it in its prime, great. If you have rediscovered it after all these years, excellent. Enjoy it. If the ship has sailed and you just can't get to grips with it anymore... well, it happens.
What's that? Better controls on the Rare Replay version? Remastered graphics? Xbox One exclusive? That's a shame.
I'm going to have to look into that. Again.
The name sounds like something a Japanese developer would come up with in order to sound cool, not knowing or caring how grammatically correct it was to western audiences. Ironically, perhaps, Perfect Dark couldn't be translated into Japanese for its release in the east.
Perfect Dark, developed by Rare, first released in 2000.
Version played: Nintendo 64, 2000, via emulation.
Version watched: Nintendo 64, 2000 (SpeedDemosArchiveSDA)
Perfect Dark Remastered, Xbox 360, 2010 (Many A True Nerd)